Two Monumental Treatises

My burgeoning commitment to pursue oriental urushi lacquerwork techniques (without the lacquer as I am exceedingly allergic to urushiol which serves as the foundation for true lacquerwork; NB urushiol is the toxin in poison ivy and poison sumac sap) has been spurred with the recent arrival of two additions to the library.


The first to show up on my doorstep was 10 pounds worth of Kurt Herberts’ long out-of-print 1960’s opus Oriental Lacquer: Art and Technique.  


The book contains hundreds of illustrations of lacquer artworks going back many centuries, which was fine but not the real point for me.  I already have several excellent picture books about lacquerwork artifacts.  What I really wanted was the immense presentation of technique and technology of the artist and material.  You see, from a materials science perspective it was absolutely critical that I understand the properties of the real deal in order to replicate most convincingly.  My long time friend Joe Amaral has been attempting to persuade me to try real urushi at which he is becoming impressively facile.  Ditto my recent email pen pal Wiebke Pandikow, a jeweler working in Finland who served an internship with a lacquer studio in Japan.  But their efforts are likely to remain fruitless.  I am just too concerned about the severe allergic reactions.

This led me to correspondence with my old acquaintance, renowned lacquer conservator and scholar Marianne Webb.  One of my great regrets is that I did not buy her great book Lacquer: Technology and conservation.  I was asleep at the switch, and now copies of that book are out of my price range and I am stuck with a photocopy.  Anyhow, Marianne recommended wholeheartedly the boxed set Urushi No Waza by Gunther Heckmann, and translated from the original 2002 German edition.

Holy cow!


Several weeks after ordering a package arrived.  I had never before received a book packed like high-value electronics.


It is nothing short of sublime; wall-to-wall materials science as art!  I am still working my way through it the first time, but it is almost certainly a book that will become a fully integrated reference for future artistic endeavors.  A foot square and between on and two inches thick, accompanied by reference materials this is a treat for the artistic impulse.  Tools, materials, techniques, analysis, and conservation are all under one roof here.